7 Places You Can Volunteer to Help Feed Your Neighbors This Holiday Season

Long Island Cares is just one local organization that is looking for volunteers this season and beyond. • Photo courtesy of Long Island Cares

On Thanksgiving morning, my phone vibrated every few minutes as Black Friday emails flooded my inbox. I was abruptly confronted with the amount of “stuff” we have. The holidays are meant to be a time of selflessness, giving, and love, while often times they become a time of overabundance, gluttony, and excess. Instead of rushing out to go Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving, I was reminded of our neighbors who are thinking about the next meal, or the next hotel room they can afford.

As of January 2017, there were over 2,800 people in emergency shelters in Nassau and Suffolk County, with over half of those being children under 18 years old. This number doesn’t include those living in substandard conditions, couch surfing with friends or family, or facing eviction. Long Island Cares estimates that there are over 300,000 people locally who are in need of food each day.

This holiday season, we wanted to tell you about organizations across the Island that serve as food pantries, soup kitchens, and hubs where you can serve those in need. This is by no means an exhaustive list; there are many other organizations on Long Island that are serving this holiday season and year-round. A friend who works at a food pantry once told me that they are most in need in February after all of the Christmas and year-end donations run out, so consider serving later on in the winter or spring.

Nassau County

INN Network

The Interfaith Nutrition Network (I.N.N.) started nearly 35 years ago as a single, small soup kitchen in Hempstead. Today, it has grown into a network of 10 soup kitchens in 14 locations across Long Island. Anyone who visits an INN location receives a hot meal and access to support services like counseling and vocational training. Nassau County soup kitchens are located in Hempstead, Freeport, Glen Cove, and Long Beach. They have Suffolk County locations as well. The INN serves 450,000 meals per year and depends on donations to feed its guests. In addition to volunteering to serve meals, you can donate funds or non-perishable food or run a food drive. They will occasionally allow prepared food to be donated as well, as long as arrangements are made in advance. Some volunteers grow extra fruits and vegetables in their gardens and donate them to the emergency shelters and pantries. They also accept clothing, personal care items, baby items, and automobiles. For more information about how you can serve the INN, visit https://the-inn.org/volunteer/.

Suffolk County

Lighthouse Mission

Lighthouse Mission was born in 1992 when Sister Elaine Bohrer received the ephiphany to “Go Feed the Poor.” 25 years later, they have grown and serve as a mobile food pantry around Suffolk County. They currently serve Coram, Ronkonkoma, Central Islip, Shirley, Port Jefferson Station, Riverhead, Centereach, Patchogue and Bellport. They also have children and teen programs, back-to-school drives, and holiday drives. They are currently collecting Christmas toys and gifts for children. To learn more and view a list of outreach locations, visit http://www.lighthousemission.com/outreaches.

Island Harvest

Since the creation of Island Harvest 25 years ago, they have delivered 130 million pounds of food to those in need. They are the largest hunger relief organization on Long Island. Volunteers donate 70,000 hours of service each year, and Island Harvest wants you to serve, too! Island Harvest is running food drives every weekend of the month of December in Nassau and Suffolk County, at supermarkets like Stop & Shop, King Kullen, and Shop Rite and need volunteers for each date. They also have volunteer opportunities in nutrition/cooking education, social services, and more. To learn more about serving, please visit http://www.islandharvest.org/get-involved/volunteer/.

Helping Hands Rescue Mission – Huntington Station

Helping Hands serves children and families through food pantries, hot lunches, baby blessing drives, and more. In addition to food-related service, volunteers help wrapping toys, hosting food drives, and organizing their clothing closet. They also offer the opportunity to sponsor a family which helps provide families with meals for the holidays. This is a great way for local families with children to serve. Service opportunities are available for volunteers ages 15 and up. For more information, visit http://www.helpinghandsrescuemission.org/get-involved.html.

Long Island Cares

Long Island Cares supports 600 food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters on Long Island. They offer food pantry and food bank services to those all across the island. They’re always looking for volunteers to help with setting up food drives, working in their mobile pantry, and other events. To learn more, visit https://www.licares.org/make-a-difference/volunteer/.

East End

Maureen’s Haven

Founded in 2002, Maureen’s Haven provides overnight shelter from November 1 through April 1. There are 18 shelters affiliated with Maureen’s Haven located in Southampton, Southold, Riverhead and East Hampton. In addition to just providing the basic needs of food and shelter, they also have a day center in Riverhead where guests can meet with a social worker or get medical help, hang out and watch a movie, and attend an AA meeting or English class. Volunteers are needed to help prepare and serve meals, act as innkeepers at the shelters overnight, and clean the shelters in the morning. They take donations of non-perishable food items, lightly used clothing, and personal hygiene products. If you’re interested in volunteering, you can contact them by phone at 631.727.6831 or send them an email here: http://maureenshaven.com/contact-us/.

John’s Place Mattituck and Greenport

Mattituck Presbyterian and St. Agnes Roman Catholic Churches work with Maureen’s Haven to provide winter shelter and meals for guests on Thursdays and Tuesdays, respectively. Open from November 1 to April 1, they aim to provide guests with a safe and warm place to sleep, clothing, and meals. They invite people of all races, religions, etc., to stay and serve. Volunteers may help with creating or serving dinner, or preparing toiletry boxes. They also take donations for winter jackets and coats. Looking forward, they have an annual “Rockin’ for the Homeless” fundraiser the weekend before Super Bowl Sunday weekend. For more information or if you’re interested in serving at John’s place, call Mattituck Presbyterian Church at 631-298-4145, or St. Agnes Church at 631-477-0048.